First Degree Burn: Causes, Symptoms & Treatments
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First-Degree Burn

First-Degree Burn

Highlights

  1. A first-degree burn is one of the mildest forms of skin injury.
  2. The most common symptoms are skin redness, mild pain and swelling, and skin peeling that occurs after a day or so.
  3. Oils, including butter, should not be applied to a burn.

A first-degree burn is also called a superficial burn or wound. It’s an injury that affects the first layer of your skin. First-degree burns are one of the mildest forms of skin injuries, and they usually don’t require medical treatment. However, some superficial burns can be quite large or painful and may require a trip to your doctor.

What Are the Symptoms of a First-Degree Burn?

Symptoms

The symptoms of first-degree burns are often minor and tend to heal after several days. The most common things you may notice at first are skin redness, pain, and swelling. The pain and swelling may be mild and your skin may start to peel after a day or so. In contrast, second-degree burns blister and are more painful due to an increased depth of the burn wound.

For a first-degree burn that occurs in larger areas of your skin, you may experience an increased level of pain and swelling. You may want to report large wounds to your doctor. Larger burns may not heal as fast as smaller burns.

An Important Note About Electrical Burns

First-degree burns that are caused by electricity may affect more of the skin than you can see in the top layer. It’s a good idea to seek medical treatment immediately after the accident occurs.

What Causes a First-Degree Burn?

Causes

Common causes of superficial burns include the following:

Sunburns

Sunburn develops when you stay out in the sun too long and don’t apply enough sunscreen. The sun produces intense ultraviolet (UV) rays that can penetrate the outer layer of your skin and cause it to redden, blister, and peel.

Scalds

Scalds are a common cause of first-degree burns in children younger than 4 years old. Hot liquid spilled from a pot on the stove or the steam emitted from hot liquid may cause burns to the hands, face, and body.

Scalds can also occur if you bathe or shower in extremely hot water. A safe water temperature should be at or below 120˚F. Temperatures higher than this can lead to more serious skin injuries, especially in young children.

Electricity

Electrical sockets, electrical cords, and appliances can appear intriguing to a young child, but they pose considerable dangers. If your child sticks a finger or any object into the openings of a socket, bites on an electrical cord, or plays with an appliance, they can get burned or electrocuted from exposure to electricity.

How Is a First-Degree Burn Treated?

Treatment

You can treat most first-degree burns at home. You should call your child’s pediatrician if you’re concerned about a burn your child received. Their doctor will examine the burn to determine its severity.

They’ll look at the burn to see:

  • how deep it penetrates the skin’s layers
  • if it’s large or in an area that requires immediate treatment, such as the eyes, nose, or mouth
  • if it shows signs of infection, such as oozing, pus, or swelling

You should see your doctor if your burn becomes infected, swollen, or extremely painful. Burns on certain areas may require a visit to the doctor. These burns may heal slower than burns on other areas of the body and require a visit to the doctor. These areas include the:

  • face
  • groin
  • hands
  • feet

Home Care Treatment

If you choose to treat your wound at home, place a cool compress over it to relieve the pain and swelling. You may do this for five to 15 minutes and then remove the compress. Avoid using ice or extremely cold compresses because they can aggravate the burn.

Avoid applying any type of oil, including butter, to a burn. These oils prevent healing in the site. However, products containing aloe vera with lidocaine may help with pain relief and are available over the counter. Aloe vera, as well as honey, lotion, or antibiotic ointments, can also be applied to first-degree burns to reduce drying and speed up repair of the damaged skin.

How Long Does It Take for a First-Degree Burn to Heal?

Outlook

As the skin heals, it may peel. Additionally, it may take three to 20 days for a first-degree burn to heal properly. Healing time may depend on the area affected. Always consult your doctor if the burn shows signs of infection or becomes worse.

How Can First-Degree Burns Be Prevented?

Prevention

Most first-degree burns can be prevented if you take the right precautions. Follow these tips to prevent first-degree burns:

  • Wear broad-spectrum sunscreen or sunblock with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher to prevent sunburn.
  • Keep hot cooking pots on the back burners with the handles turned toward the center of the stovetop to prevent accidents. Also, be sure to watch young children in the kitchen.
  • A safe water temperature should be at or below 120˚F. Most water heaters have a maximum setting of 140˚F. You can manually reset your hot-water tank to have a maximum of 120˚F to avoid burns.
  • Cover all exposed electrical sockets in your home with childproof covers.
  • Unplug appliances that aren’t in use.
  • Place electrical cords where your child cannot reach them.

You Asked, We Answered

  • What are the differences between first-degree, second-degree, and third-degree burns?
  • First-degree burns involve only the epidermis, which is the most superficial layer of skin. Second-degree burns are more serious and penetrate through the epidermis to involve the next layer of skin known as the dermis. They normally result in redness, moderate pain, and blistering of the skin. Third-degree burns are the most serious type and penetrate through the epidermis and dermis to the deepest layers of the skin. These burns are not painful because they cause destruction of the sensory nerve endings in the involved skin. The tissue may appear charred and underlying tissue such as fat and muscle may be visible. You can lose a lot of fluid through a third-degree burn and they are extremely prone to infection. First-degree and mild second-degree burns can usually be treated at home, but more extensive second-degree burns and third-degree burns require immediate medical attention.

    - Graham Rogers, MD

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